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Shooting attack in West Bank with Israel on high alert


Rockets fired from Gaza were seen being intercepted on Friday morning after Israel’s military hit sites in Lebanon and Gaza in retaliation for rocket attacks it blamed on the Islamist group Hamas.

Two Israeli women were killed in a shooting in the occupied West Bank on Friday and Israel reinforced troops near its borders after cross-frontier violence and police raids at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque raised concerns of a broadening conflict.

But despite militants firing salvoes of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza over the past day and the Israeli military replying with air strikes, no other serious injuries were reported along the borders and neither side seemed keen to intensify the fighting.

“Nobody wants an escalation right now,” an Israeli army spokesman said. “Quiet will be answered with quiet, at this stage I think, at least in the coming hours.”

One official with a Palestinian militant group told Reuters they were ready to keep the calm should Israel do the same, with the group having “made its point”.

Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, which draws hundreds of thousands of worshippers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and where Israel has deployed large police forces, passed without major incidents.

Apart from some stone-throwing, police said the compound was quiet. The Palestinians and Jordan, who is custodian of holy sites in East Jerusalem, reject any Israeli police presence in the Old City.

Earlier in the week Israeli police raided Al-Aqsa and beat Palestinian worshippers, arresting and removing hundreds of people from the compound in what they said was an effort to remove agitators holed up in the mosque. The action drew condemnation across the Arab world.

During Ramadan, Muslims around the world see it as a religious duty to remain overnight and pray at mosques.

In Friday’s West Bank shooting incident, two Israeli women, reported by local media to be sisters, were killed when their car came under fire near the Jewish settlement of Hamra.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was holding a security assessment. Palestinian militant group Hamas Hamas, which rules Gaza, did praise the shooting attack but stopped short of claiming responsibility.

Israel blamed Hamas for Thursday’s rocket attacks, although the group did not say it was behind them.

The salvoes included the largest from Lebanon since a 2006 war. They interrupted the Jewish holiday of Passover and sent residents running for shelters. In the south, firefighters doused a blaze and police cleared away the debris from a rocket fired from Gaza that struck a house.

Before noon on Friday, however, Israel’s military said residents near the Gaza border no longer needed to keep close to bomb shelters.

Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said extra infantry and artillery forces were sent to the northern and southern commands to help defend against “possible scenarios”.

Earlier on Friday, Israeli air strikes hit sites in Gaza and Lebanon.

Loud blasts rocked different areas of the blockaded coastal enclave and Israel said its war planes hit 10 targets including Hamas tunnels and weapons-making sites.

Afterwards, streets in Gaza were largely empty except for some taxis and emergency vehicles. In the Tufah neighbourhood of Gaza City some houses and a children’s hospital were damaged.

Taxi driver Muhanad Abu Neama, 23, said his family barely escaped Israeli air strikes that hit near his house, filling rooms with dirt and debris and damaging his car.

“I could hardly see because of the dust, the dirt covered my sisters’ beds and I carried them out one by one,” he said.

Even before the flare-up of the past few days, the West Bank has seen a surge of confrontations in the past several months, with near-daily military raids and escalating settler violence amid a spate of attacks by Palestinians.

With the international-led peace process long moribund, Palestinians’ hopes of creating an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, have faded.

Israel’s new hard-right government is set on expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and includes members who rule out a Palestinian state. Hamas for its part spurns coexistence with Israel.

Over the past year, Israeli forces have made thousands of arrests in the West Bank and killed more than 250 Palestinians, including fighters and civilians. More than 40 Israelis and three Ukrainians have died in Palestinian attacks in the same period.

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Smoke and flames rise during Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, April 7, 2023. REUTERS/Ashraf Amra

An aerial view of craters in the ground after Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City April 7, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Streaks are seen in the sky as rockets are launched from Gaza, April 7, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

A view of the damage is seen from a window inside a building after Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City April 7, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
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